The ROM's Very Own Batman Returns

Posted: October 13, 2015 - 14:00 , by ROM
The ROM’s very own ‘Batman’, Assistant Curator of Mammalogy, Dr. Burton Lim with "bat wings" outlined with light in a long exposure photo. Credit: Vincent Luk

Blog by the ROM Sri Lanka Communications Team, Deirdre Leowinata and Vincent Luk

After every trip, there’s a period of time that passes before everything sinks in. For our #ROMSriLanka team, after a whirlwind of non-stop surveying, the events of the expedition are finally catching up to us. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the journey of a lifetime happened in just under one month. After one last curry and a series of warm goodbyes, the team split up and its members went their separate ways to the comfort of home. On September 19th, after 21 hours in transit, our ROM team arrived back in bustling Toronto; Dr. Brinklov and her crew journeyed back to Denmark; and the rest returned to their families in Sri Lanka.

For such a small island (65,000 km2 – less than 1% of Canada’s size), Sri Lanka contains a staggering diversity of habitats. During the trip, we travelled through rolling hills to misty cloud forests, humid rainforests, temperate mountains, and arid deserts all in a matter of days. We encountered a wealth of biodiversity in those areas and were treated with sightings ranging from bird-eating spiders, chameleons, sloth bears, barking deer, Asian elephants, leopards, butterflies, giant squirrels, saw-scaled vipers, many endemic bird species, and many other unique creatures. It was an exhilarating experience for our team of naturalists, who were primarily there to study bats, but also took the time to appreciate everything else that nature provided.

The expedition in numbers:

  • 27 days spent in the field

  • 8 different areas across Sri Lanka surveyed

  • A total of 2500km traveled

  • 16/30 total bat species identified, including at least one that may be a new record for Sri Lanka.* (see our sightings list at the end of the blog!)

Dr. Burton Lim and crew searching for ideal locations for catching bats in the Sinharaja rainforest. Credit: Vincent Luk

Dr. Burton Lim showing locals a bat caught in a mist net and teaching them about that species’ behaviour. Credit: Deirdre Leowinata

Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornate), a bird species that is endemic to Sri Lanka. Credit: Vincent Luk

Wild Asian elephant sharing some water with painted storks at Kumana National Park. Credit: Vincent Luk

The big find of the trip was the Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). Originating in Africa, its range was previously thought to extend no further east than Northern India. If this discovery is confirmed, it has big implications for studies of biogeography, and raises a lot more questions. We have to wait for the DNA barcoding analysis before we can confirm anything, but for now, stay tuned as we share more of our #ROMSriLanka stories! We will be releasing more photos and videos from the trip throughout the year and we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as we get those DNA results.

Photo portrait of the Egyptian Fruit Bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus), possibly a new record for Sri Lanka. Credit: Burton Lim A photo portrait of Rousettus leschenaultii. A species of fruit bat commonly found in Sri Lanka. Credit: Burton Lim

Dr. Burton Lim & Dr. Signe Brinklov collecting wing punches for DNA sampling. Credit: Vincent Luk

Dr. Signe Brinklov examines a small pipistrelle bat before releasing it to record its echolocation call. Credit: Vincent Luk

Despite the tenacity of Sinharaja’s leeches, we all made it through the trip relatively unscathed. The sure sign that the expedition was coming to an end was when the bat detector – a device used to record echolocation calls – batteries died and our second triple-high net broke on our last night of surveying, with no bats in the nets.

Reflecting on #ROMSriLanka is like looking into an alternate world with an overwhelming bombardment of all four senses. From sampling the smorgasbord of banana species grown there to wisely not putting up mist nets in the open grasslands during a lightning storm, from looking into a cave and seeing thousands of sparkling eyes staring back at you to then being surrounded by beating wings, the expedition was for science, but it was nothing short of magical.

A Rufous Horseshoe Bat, (Rhinolophus rouxi) in flight, found in the Knuckles Mountain Range.  Credit: Vincent Luk

Setting up a mist net at Wasgamua National Park, while enjoying the lightning storm that has passed in the background. Credit: Vincent Luk

Black-bearded tomb bats (Taphazous melanopogon) staring down at us. One of several bat caves and rocky outcrops we encountered in Sri Lanka. Credit: Vincent Luk

Dr. Burton Lim examines a lesser short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis). Credit: Deirdre Leowinata

Dr. Burton Lim and Dr. Signe Brinklov identifying and releasing bats caught in a harp trap at Wavulgalge Cave. Credit: Vincent Luk

Thangamale Forest Reserve. Credit: Deirdre Leowinata

The Knuckles Mountain range. Credit: Vincent Luk

Final day in the field setting up the mist net in Mannar. The high winds snapped one of the poles shortly after this photo was taken. Credit: Deirdre Leowinata

Dr. Burton Lim looking pleased with all the different bats caught at Kumana National Park. Credit: Vincent Luk

Map of locations surveyed on the #ROMSriLanka expedition.

* List of all bat species identified:

1. Indian roundleaf bat (Hipposideros lankadiva)

2. Indian pipistrelle (Pipistrellus coromandra)

3. Indian flying fox (Pteropus giganteus)

4. Greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx)

5. Round-eared tube-nosed bat (Murina cyclotis)

6. Lesser short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis)

7. Rufous horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus rouxii)

8. Schneider's leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros speoris)

9. Leschenault's rousette (Rousettus leschenaultii)

10. Least pipistrelle (Pipistrellus tenuis)

11. Fulvus roundleaf bat (Hipposideros fulvus)

12. Black-bearded tomb bat (Taphozous melanopogon)

13. Greater false vampire bat (Megaderma lyra)

14. Lesser Asiatic yellow bat (Scotophilus kuhlii)

15. Eastern bent-wing bat (Miniopterus fuliginosus)

16. Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus)